Paxton follows up no-hitter by facing Tigers

What can James Paxton do for another encore?

In his first May start, the Seattle Mariners left-hander struck out 16 Oakland batters. He followed that up by tossing a no-hitter at Toronto on Tuesday.

Unless he pulls a Johnny Vander Meer and becomes the second pitcher in major-league history to throw consecutive no-hitters, it will be nearly impossible to top that feat.

Paxton makes his next start Sunday at Detroit in the finale of a three-game series.

Paxton normally keeps a low profile, but his last two outings have thrust him into the spotlight. He’d rather not have so much attention focused his way, but it beats the alternative, as he told the Seattle Times.

“It’s worth it, absolutely,” he said. “Like they say: ‘Don’t do anything great if you can’t handle the congratulations.’ It’s definitely been crazy.”

Paxton (2-1, 3.40 ERA) walked three and struck out seven in his gem against the Blue Jays. The British Columbia native had plenty of countrymen pulling for him as he closed in on the no-hitter, which he finished by retiring Josh Donaldson with a 99 mph fastball.

“Everyone was watching,” he told the Seattle Times. “I got all kinds of text messages and videos of people watching the last out. It was pretty amazing.”

It was the Mariners’ sixth no-hitter in franchise history. He carries a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings into his outing against the Tigers.

In five career starts against Detroit, he’s 2-1 with a 3.19 ERA.

If there’s one thing Paxton could use, it’s more run support. He has given up two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts yet has only two wins to show for it. He is fourth in the American League with 67 strikeouts.

Manager Scott Servais returns to the bench Sunday after missing Saturday’s doubleheader to attend his daughter’s graduation. Seattle salvaged a split with a 9-5 victory in the nightcap after dropping a 4-3 decision in the opener.

Blaine Hardy will oppose Paxton in what will be a momentous occasion for the 31-year-old left-hander. Hardy has made 167 major-league appearances, all in relief.

Hardy tuned up for his start by throwing two scoreless innings at Texas on Wednesday after a five-pitch appearance the previous night.

“Throwing (Wednesday) was a good step to making sure I have that longevity for Sunday,” Hardy said.

Hardy, who has made six starts for Triple-A Toledo over the past two seasons, can mix up his pitches a little more as a starter. He throws a four-seam fastball, changeup, slider and curveball.

“As a starter, you’ve got to use all four or five or how many you have,” Hardy said. “The biggest thing is with 80 to 100 pitches, I’m going to throw all my pitches at least 10 to 20 times. You start to get a good feel for how to use them. It’s completely different throwing them in the bullpen to throwing them to live hitters.”

Hardy has no-decisions in nine relief outings against the Mariners but has allowed only one run in 10 1/3 innings.

The Tigers may play Sunday’s game without outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, who left the nightcap with a left pinkie contusion after being hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch.

The teams will finish off the seven-game season series with four games in Seattle next weekend.